The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced six grants totaling $306-million for programs designed to increase agricultural productivity and income for small-scale farmers in Africa and Asia.
The projects seek to improve farming soil, develop more robust varieties of rice, increase access to irrigation, and help farmers get their crops to market.
“If we are serious about ending extreme hunger and poverty around the world, we must be serious about transforming agriculture for small farmers — most of whom are women,” Bill Gates said when he announced the new grants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“These investments — from improving the quality of seeds, to developing healthier soil, to creating new markets — will pay off not only in children fed and lives saved. They can have a dramatic impact on poverty reduction as families generate additional income and improve their lives.”
The new grants double the amount of money that the Gates Foundation has awarded since the start of its agriculture grant-making program in 2006. The foundation says its spending on agriculture grants will reach $900-million by the end of this year
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, will receive $164.5-million over five years for a program designed to improve soil health in 14 African countries. The alliance was founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, which will contribute an additional $25-million for the soil project.
In a speech to the World Economic Forum yesterday, Mr. Gates called for a new “creative capitalism” to harness the power of business to aid the world’s poor.
“Giving money away is a good way to change lives, but it is not a sustainable way to change the world,” he said.
That market-based approach is evident in several of the agriculture grants announced today.
The foundation awarded a four-year $42.8-million grant to Heifer International to help small-scale dairy farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda sell their milk in the formal dairy-processing sector, in part by building “chilling stations,” intermediate collection points where the milk can be held before going to the processor.
A four-year $5.25-million grant to CARE will aid dairy farmers in Bangladesh.
TechnoServe, an American group that works to fight rural poverty around the world, will use a four-year $46.9-million grant to expand its efforts to help coffee farmers in East Africa adopt growing and processing techniques that will allow them to sell their crops for a higher price on the premium coffee market.
The organization works with farmers’ groups to help them understand the steps they need to take to sell to the higher-paying coffee market and to buy processing equipment. The 10,000 farmers that TechnoServe has worked with in Tanzania have seen their household incomes double.
Because the program helps farmers create businesses that are taking advantage of a market opportunity, the benefits continue even after TechnoServe stops working with the groups, says Bruce McNamer, the organization’s chief executive officer.
“You don’t have to keep putting donor money into this,” he says. “Once those businesses are up and running, once you’ve had that catalyzing effect, this becomes almost by definition self-sustaining.”